About half way through Danny Boyle’s spectacular Olympic opening ceremony something remarkable happened. The show’s third act was a love story celebrating life in modern Britain, a multi-racial romance set to a medley of songs and television images from the last few decades.
And as the scene reached its climax, a billion people around the world watched the story’s lovers come together with the chorus of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles ringing around the stadium. A billion eyes were focused on this small patch of Earth in the East End of London and a billion ears were hearing Bubbles. Our song on our turf.
I was watching it in a crowd of nearly 5,000 on the big screen in Haggerston Park in Hackney and belted out every word. And as it came to an end someone near me explained to his foreign friend that this was West Ham’s song.
The opening ceremony was a spectacle of the sort that few fans ever get to witness on their own club’s soil. And what’s more, the ceremony was designed to tell the story of Britain’s history, but it is West Ham’s history too.
One of its most powerful sections was the depiction of the industrial revolution replacing the green and pleasant land of English folklore. As chimneys sprang out of the ground and thousands of grimey workers ripped up the rural paradise, an army of hammer wielding men forged from molten metal the Olympic ring that would serve as the spectacular centrepiece of this section of the ceremony.
For a few dazzling minutes the Olympic Stadium became an iron works by the Thames. Don’t act like you didn’t choke up a little too. While the first sections of the ceremony dealt with Britain’s proud history — rural idyll, industrial revolution, Shakespeare, Jerusalem, Brunel, the NHS, war — the section that featured Bubbles was about a nation that was not just comfortable in the modern age, but that led it, lived it and celebrated it.
Modern Britain is not different from proud, romantic, heroic and nostalgic Britain. The two are entwined. Here was a celebration of the past that explained the present, set in a modern and transformed part of one of the world’s most historic and important cities. It said you can move on without forgetting your past. Move up without undermining your history.
It was, in one way, an argument for West Ham moving to the Olympic Stadium. I will be as sad as anyone to leave Upton Park. I understand its emotional pull. I was first taken to the Boleyn as a child more than 20 years ago by my dad, and have returned hundreds of times since.
A club with as proud a history as ours needs to be, and deserves to be, at the top table of English football. The bottom line is we can’t get there and remain there in the long run if we stay at Upton Park. It is too small and can’t be made big enough. And I understand the practical concerns about moving: Will the atmosphere be the same? Will we fill it? Will the fans be close enough to the pitch?
The only way to answer those questions is to do it and I sincerely hope and expect that these concerns will be addressed by those in charge. But moving to the Olympic Stadium would not be the same as other clubs moving to a custom built new stadium from their historic home.
It comes with a ready made history and importance. It has already revolutionised our borough and created memories that will last a lifetime. It was built to celebrate the best of what we can be: competition, pride, sportsmanship. And for a few weeks the eyes of the world were on it and for one night they saw a spectacle that explained to them what it means to be one of us.
It is like the Olympic Stadium was built for us and the opening ceremony was the explanation of why. I for one can’t wait for that proud first match at our new home, and for that moment when our boys come out onto the pitch for the first time and are greeted by 60,000 voices singing I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.